4:00 PM EST, CBS – Line: LSU -7.5, Over/Under: 54.5
If you’re wracking your brain over who will eventually be selected to participate in the annual College Football Playoff, then you’ll no doubt be focused the happenings at Mercedes-Benz Stadium today, as the undefeated No. 2 LSU Tigers battle the No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game. If there is one team that figures to be a lock for the Playoff, it would have to be Louisiana State (12-0, 8-0 in SEC), who even with a loss today possesses by far and away the most impressive CV in the country. No school in 2019 can claim not one, not two, not three, but four victories over opponents ranked within the AP Top-10 at the time of play, bulldozing the No. 7 Florida Gators (42-28), grinding away the No. 9 Auburn Tigers (23-20), and outlasting reigning SEC Champion and No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (46-41), on the road no less. Given the credentials of the other teams vying for the fourth and final spot in the Playoff, one would have to think that the Bayou Bengals would have a considerable edge over other candidates such as No. Utah or No. Oklahoma, who very well may end up as winners of their respective conferences. With that said, the probability of Ed Orgeron’s charges handling their business in Atlanta today is high as well, for few teams have been more consistently impressive week in and week out this season. Credit to Orgeron, who in the Offseason went to the New Orleans Saints, hiring one of their many Assistants, in this case Joe Brady, as Co-Offensive Coordinator in an attempt to bring a more comprehensive, pro-style system to Baton Rouge. When all is said and done, this move will likely go down as the one that changed the fortunes for the Tigers in 2019 for the better, for his addition to the Coaching Staff has paid unbelievable dividends, transforming what had previously been a stagnant Offense, into the most explosive and prolific in school history. Think about it, folks, in 2018 LSU showed flashes in averaging 32.4 Points per Game on 402.1 Total Yards, including 228.5 Yards courtesy of the Pass, but this year have show considerable growth with 48.7 Points per Game (2nd Overall) on 561.6 Total Yards, including 390.0 Passing Yards. To put this into proper perspective, this is a unit that managed nine 500-Yard Games from 2016 to 2018, though have put together a staggering ten thus far in 2019. At the heart of it all has been Senior Quarterback, Joe Burrow (78.3%, 4,366 YDS, 10.9 Y/A, 44 TD, 6 INT), who has benefitted greater than anyone from the change in scheme, completing 78.3% of his Attempts for 4,366 Yards on 10.9 Yards per Attempt, with a staggering Forty-Four Touchdowns in comparison to just Six Interceptions. Not bad for a Transfer who completed just 57.8% of his Passes for 2,894 Yards, Sixteen Touchdowns and Five Interceptions a year ago. The Southeast Conference’s single-season leader in both Passing Yards and Passing Touchdowns, no player in the country has seen their profile rise higher than Burrow, who heading into today’s contest is both the favorite to be voted Hesiman and to be the first Quarterback selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. When we last saw he and the Tigers, they finished off the Regular Season in style, hammering Texas A&M in a 50-7 victory that clinched the program’s first 12-Win Season since 2011. This one was never in question, as the hosts scored the first Thirty-Four Points of the affair, on their way to amassing 564 Total Yards on Thirty-One First Downs , including 139 Yards rushing on Thirty-Seven Carries, while Burrow continued to build his considerable portfolio with 23-of-32 Passes going for 352 Yards and Three Touchdowns. Junior Tailback, Clyde Edwards-Helaire (182 CAR, 1,233 YDS, 6.8 Y/C, 16 TD), the hero from the victory over Alabama in which he logged 180 Yards from Scrimmage and Four Touchdowns, finished the evening with 136 Yards from Scrimmage and a rushing score, while Sophomore Receiver, Ja’Marr Chase (70 REC, 1,457 YDS, 20.8 Y/R, 17 TD), went to work with Seven Receptions for 197 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns. When these teams met a year ago, they played in the longest game in College Football History, with LSU earning a 74-72 victory that required a ridiculous SEVEN Overtimes to decide a victor. However, this one wasn’t nearly as close, with the home side besting the visitors by 384 Total Yards. Furthermore, the Defense, which hasn’t been the most formidable in recent years, permitted just 169 Total Yards on Twelve First Downs, relegating Aggies’ Quarterback, Kellen Mond, to a miserable 10-of-30 Passing for Ninety-Two Yards and Three Interceptions, Six Sacks, and a Safety. Defensive Backs, Grant Delpit (53 TKL, 2.0 TFL, 1 FR, 2 INT, 6 PD), JaCoby Stevens (74 TKL, 8.5 TFL, 5.0 SK, 3 INT, 5 PD), and Kary Vincent (39 TKL, 2.0 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PD), each registered an Interception, led the charge for a unit that forced a Punt on Texas A&M’s first seven possessions, before Delpit picked Mond off on the eighth. With the Offense shattering school records, this late season progression from the Defense could very well make this team the odds-on favorite to hoist the National Championship Trophy.
Meanwhile, with the first three spots in the College Football Playoff likely intact (in some permutation), the fourth and final seed is where things get tricky, and heading into today’s SEC Championship, Georgia (11-1, 7-1 in SEC) finds themselves sitting in that place. At this point, it’s very simple for the Bulldogs: win and they’re in, for they already sit atop of the heap of one-loss teams, with a potential victory over the undefeated Tigers booking their ticket to the Playoff. However, while there is an argument for their selection despite a loss, any hopes of returning to the Playoff for the second time in three years will in all likelihood be crushed with a defeat today. Now in their fourth season under Kirby Smart, Georgia has posted their third consecutive 11-Win Season, and as a result will be competing in the Southeast Conference Championship Game for the third straight year. It’s been a familiar formula for success in Athens, where a dominant Defense has been buoyed by a balanced Offense that still leans heavily towards the ground game. On the year, the Defense has been the best in the SEC, which is littered with solid units, allowing a scant 10.4 Points per Game (2nd Overall) on just 257.3 Total Yards, including 186.0 Yards against the Pass and another 71.3 Yards versus the Run. Though they haven’t forced many Turnovers (13) or racked up a plethora of Sacks (24.5), this is a group that does a tremendous job of maintaining their positional discipline, in turn making life miserable for their opponents. As prolific as he’s been, we’re gonna go out on a limb and predict that Burrow will be forced to take his time in probing this group; opposing Quarterbacks have passed for over 200 Yards against them on six occasions thus far, while only five have managed to complete 60.0% or more of their passes. Junior Defensive Back, Richard Lecounte (53 TKL, 4.5 TFL, 2 FF, 3 FR, 2 INT, 3 PD), has been a hellraiser in the Secondary, posting 4.5 Tackles for Loss, a pair of Forced Fumbles, Three Recoveries, and Two Interceptions, while Redshirt Freshman Linebacker, Azeez Ojulari (27 TKL, 4.0 TFL, 4.5 SK), looks like the next great Georgia Defender in the making. When we last saw these guys, they effectively erased their hapless instate rival, Georgia Tech, in a 52-7 annihilation, relegating the home side to a miserable showing consisting of a mere 139 Total Yards on Seven First Downs. With that said, all anyone wanted to talk about following Saturday’s affair was the Offense, which despite scoring seventeen unanswered points to open the game, were anything but efficient, with a pair of separate incidents looming large for today’s contest. Yes, Georgia totaled 500 Yards for the fourth time this season, and the first time in seven outings, including 219 Rushing Yards on Forty Carries, while Junior Quarterback, Jake Fromm (62.0%, 2,385 YDS, 7.6 Y/A, 21 TD, 3 INT) matched his career-high of Four Touchdowns (which was set in last year’s meeting with the Yellow Jackets), but it was far from a clean performance. Fromm completed just 14-of-29 Passes, which marked the fourth consecutive game in which he failed to complete 50.0% of his Attempts, while the unit as a whole committed Three Turnovers. Freshman Receiver, George Pickens (33 REC, 498 YDS, 15.1 Y/R, 6 TD), who leads the team with Six Receiving Touchdowns, was suspended for the First Half of the affair due to disciplinary reasons, and was promptly ejected after throwing a punch in the Second Half, which means that he’s likely to miss at least the first half of the SEC Championship Game as well. This doesn’t bode well for today’s tilt, for the Bulldogs are already without Lawrence Cager (33 REC, 476 YDS, 14.4 Y/R, 4 TD), who suffered a serious ankle injury in practice last week, for all intents and purposes ending his season. Adding further fuel to the fire is the shoulder injury suffered by All-SEC Tailback, D’Andre Swift (193 CAR, 1,203 YDS, 6.2 Y/C, 7 TD), who was knocked out of the game in Third Quarter after losing a Fumble via a jarring hit. Smart has since came out and labeled the injury as merely a contusion, but this can only be branded as a disturbing turn of events leading up to the biggest game of their season. Essentially, Georgia is facing the proposition of facing LSU without their top two Receivers and a Tailback who is not only their leading rusher but also a factor in the Passing Game, hauling in Twenty-One Receptions for 198 Yards and a Touchdown. Add it all up and this is a unit that could be without roughly 46.9% of their Total Yards. And that’s the issue here, folks; with Fromm continuing to struggle with his accuracy, and a number of prominent players likely to be hampered at the very least, the prospects of matching Burrow & CO. point for point is admittedly low. The Defense will need to be at their best in order to overcome these flaws, though it some point it will come down to Fromm’s ability to make plays, whether he has the requisite help to do so or not.